EPISODE 10: RIVALRIES

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Venday, Libra 27th, 2344 AA. 6:05 AM. Arroyo Athenaeum (West Cafeteria)

It was an especially cruel morning. Apart from poor sleep, Hace’s head ached from the receding dust high, and his hip, while functional, was still extremely tender. He was afraid he would have to come up with an excuse for favoring his leg while jogging, but none of the proctors overseeing morning exercises took any notice. Most of the other aspirants weren’t prepared for how strenuous the Athenaeum’s athletic regime was, so there had already been a number of sprains, strains, and too many bruises to count. Even Glem’s freshly pummeled face didn’t raise any eyebrows.

Athenaeums were famously violent, and until a pecking order fell into place, such flare-ups were inevitable. And since I chucked rocks at the hornets’ nest last night, I can’t afford to look weak today. He did his best to hide his limp as he collected breakfast alongside Glem. He caught a couple people eyeing them, exchanging whispers and snickers. Mostly second and third years. Jrett eyed him balefully from two tables over, but nobody sitting next to him bothered to follow his gaze, so he probably wasn’t spreading the story among their cohort.

Maybe word hasn’t got out yet.

“Is it true you beat up a third-year last night and then vanished?”

Gelm and Hace both turned to see Cyphira holding her tray and wearing a Cheshire grin.

“Who told you that?” Glem demanded.

“I heard it from Senice who heard it from Mogden who heard it from a couple second years. Apparently, you were there too,” Cyphira said to Glem. “And so was Jrett, but Jrett isn’t talking. Care to share your side of things?”

Hace snickered. So much for keeping quiet.

“God damn it,” Glem said. “I knew he would talk.”

“I mean, I broke his rib,” Hace said, glib. “I knew there’d be consequences, even after you put him back together.”

Cyphira’s eyes grew wide and she drew her head back.

“This sounds like quite a story.”

“Let’s find a seat. We’ll tell you all about it.”

The three of them sat at one of the cafeteria’s empty counters—a slight breach of etiquette, as the counters ‘belonged’ to upperclassmen studying for exams—but this was urgent. Nobody else took the remaining seats at the counter, allowing Hace and Glem to relay the evening’s adventure to Cyphira in hushed tones. Her face shifted from humor to horror and back again. Hace omitted any mention of his father, simply saying a fae dislocated it during an akratic episode. Cyphira seemed to smell his omission, but didn’t press him for details.

“Wow. I’m really falling behind on my infamy quota,” Cyphira said. “Between you and Valmont everybody’s talking about us first-years. If I don’t pick a fight soon, you’ll leave me in the dust.”

“Please don’t use Hace as an example for anything,” Glem muttered.

“Wait. What’s the deal with Valmont? She actually got in a fight?” Hace asked.

Cyphira nodded, lips pressed and eyes wide.

“Couple days ago. During sparring practice. She put her boot on Vetha Whitmore’s head after Vetha sucker-punched Pensey Hayes.”

Glem and Hace exchanged surprised glances. They scanned the room for Valmont, and found her sitting next to Hayes, giggling about something. Holy hell. She has a sense of humor too. I didn’t think she had the necessary parts for picking fights and laughter.

“I figured Valmont ironed her shoelaces for fun,” Hace said.

Cyphira snickered and shrugged.

“Maybe she does. But she can kick an ass or few as well.”

— 7:30 AM. Arroyo Athenaeum (Training Field) —

After breakfast, they had sorcery training. Their exercise was nicknamed the “Trial of the Disc.” Proctor Miller, a fourth-year blonde girl with a pronounced valley-girl accent, explained that the students would be using their wyrds to fire bursts of kinetic energy at a disc. The disc was enchanted to change colors and give off an urdic ripple that gauged their strength. Students sorted themselves into five lines, and took turns firing at the targets while proctors ‘read’ the ripples with enchanted glass globes that translated the ripple into a numerical value from one to two-hundred. The goal was to get as close to one hundred points as possible.

Being able to moderate wyrd strength would be an ongoing challenge during Hace’s time at the Athenaeum. As aspirants grew and practiced magic, their wyrds grew with them. In fact, there appeared to be no upward limit to how powerful a wyrd could become. However, the centers of the brain associated with ‘urdic coordination,’ or the ability to finely control a wyrd tended to stop learning new tricks in a person’s early twenties.

Most people in Hace’s line were hitting forties and fifties. One person managed to hit seventy. Then Dravnik Sokolov, the huge Soviet, hit the disc with a monstrous burst of power. The runes on the disc shot from pale blue to an angry, eye-searing red, and the ripple sounded like the screech of twisting metal.

“Okay so, that’s what a one seventy-eight looks like,” Miller said, exasperated.

Wow. That is some hysterical overkill.

Drav raised both fists in the air and roared triumphantly.

“You know that’s not, like, good, right?” Proctor Miller asked, laughing. “If you used that kind of force to, like, pick up a dinner plate? You’d knock your teeth out.”

Drav turned to her with pleading gestures.

“Proctor. Please. I am still only learning. But…” then he turned and held his arms wide to the rest of the line with a smirk. “I do wonder. Can anybody else come close?”

Oh. My dude. You are so on.

The proctor swatted the back of his head, and he jogged chuckling to the back of the line.

Hace ended up a couple people behind Valmont, and he leaned to the side of the line to watch her form. Where respect was concerned, he didn’t give a rat’s left nut that she was the Arch Commissioner’s daughter. And his attitude toward her perfect-golem-girl shtick ranged from perplexed amusement to strained patience. But she also knew her shit. She was almost perfect. And the only hints of a personality there were her satisfaction at succeeding, and her desire to improve. That and this mysterious fight she supposedly got into.

Lin stretched her neck from both sides, squared her shoulders off toward the target, and in one smooth gesture, fired her kinetic bolt. There was a slight whistle to the air, and the disc rang out with a delicate timbre, growing a pale green.

“Eighty-seven,” Miller called. “So far, Valmont’s the one to beat, boys and girls.”

Hace waited for his turn eagerly, bouncing from foot to foot, and when he stepped up to the plate, he took a deep breath, steadying his aim, and reached out for the disc with his wyrd. Then he fired a moderate burst of wyrd energy, but attempted to choke-off the end of the shot to moderate its force. When his spell struck the disc, it’s runes sped through the green zone, and ended up in a bright yellow.

“Wow. Big swinger,” the proctor observed. “Not bad though. One twenty even.”

Hace bobbed his head at the proctor and started to walk to the back of the line when Valmont approached him.

“You’re gifted,” she said. “Naturally powerful wyrd. But you’re trying so hard to control it that you’re actually amplifying the force rather than moderating its output. Think of it like squeezing the spray of a garden hose. I can give you some pointers if you’d like.”

Hace forced an uneasy smile. Thanks, but I didn’t ask. And I was only off by seven more points than you! Before he could think of a way to respond, Cyphira stepped up to the firing line and the proctor gave her the go ahead. Both Lin and Hace turned to watch.

With one smooth gesture, she swept her arm up, fist closed, then opened her palm at shoulder height, releasing the kinetic bolt. Hace knew it was a good shot from the cast-ripple. Hell, I can tell just from her body language. The bolt struck home, dead center. Energy traced the shape of the rune in brilliant streaks of green, and the disc sent out a beautiful ripple, like ringing crystal.

The proctor looked at the reader and furrowed her brow. Cyphira looked at her, expectantly waiting for her score.

“Uh… try that one more time?” Miller said. “I’m not sure this thing read it right.”

Cyphira shrugged, indifferent to her audience—the ringing ripple had drawn everyone’s attention. Once again, she squared off with the target, raised her arm, and fired a bolt. The plate glowed with minty energy, and rang out with a beautiful urdic timbre once again.

“Wow,” the proctor exclaimed. “Well. That’s a ninety-eight and a ninety-six.”

The class went dead quiet until Cyphira raised her fist in the air in triumph, then everyone broke out in awed exclamations and cries of congratulations. Lin’s mouth hung open, a sight that was almost as satisfying as Corton’s expression when Hace broke his rib. He gave Lin a wry grin then jerked a finger at Cyphira.

“I appreciate the offer,” Hace said. “But I think I’ll ask her for advice.”

Lin closed her mouth and stared frosty death at him before turning away to watch the next student. Hace walked over to Cyphira and gave her a high five.

“Nice shootin’,” he said.

“You’re not too shabby yourself.”

“Twenty points of overkill ain’t great,” Hace said, rubbing the back of his neck.

“At least you’ve got the juice. Easier to dial it back than turn it up.”

They finished the rotation, and then it was Lin’s turn again. She swept her hand forward from her hip, firing her bolt with a sort of reverse-chopping gesture. It was stiffer than her initial shot, and her wrist noticeably jerked upward as the bolt left her wyrd. The plate clanged upon contact, its rune glowing with an angry, orange color. Lin hissed and turned away before the proctor could call her score.

“Yeah, that was…one fifty-six,” the proctor said. “Maybe you should take a breather?”

Again, the class fell silent, except for Drav, who gave her an enthusiastic thumbs up. The other students—especially those struggling to break the mid-thirties—stared at Lin with a mix of awe and disbelieving terror. Hace exchanged an uneasy glance with Cyphira, then whispered:

“Think you got under Little Miss Perfect’s skin.”

“Yeah,” Cyphira said slowly. “She’s definitely one to watch out for.”

— Alinore. 7:36 AM. Arroyo Athenaeum (Training Field) —

“Hey, at least you can hit hard. I’m giving it my all and I can’t crack forty!” Pensey said.

Lin wanted to dismiss it and correct her. If I fired that bolt to apprehend somebody, I might break bones, or worse. But Pensey had been coaching her on receiving compliments graciously. Don’t shoot her down. Either say thanks, or answer with something positive and genuine. Just saying‘thanks’ felt like the easy way out, so…

“You already have enough power to hit seventy, comfortably,” Lin assured her. Pensey scoffed and emanated skepticism. Lin insisted: “I’m serious! On your next turn, don’t think about… ‘shooting’ power out of your hand. Just focus on making impact with the target. Like, you’re launching these cannon ball blasts of force. They’re hard to aim, harder to control, and their force burns out between you and the target, so you end up in the thirties.”

Pensey listened intently, and nodded her head. Lin liked that about her. Every time people gave her advice, she gave it due consideration and did her best to implement it.

When Miller finally called Pensey to the firing line, she stepped up, took a deep breath, and stretched her arm toward the target. Her hand still jerked when she released the sorcery, but it didn’t buck wildly like it had before, and there was no explosive burst up close. Instead, the disc lit a pale turquoise and exuded a brief, dense ripple.

Miller grinned when she read the receiver.

“Nice job, Miss Hayes! That’s a sixty-nine.”

The line simmered with snickers and nearly every boy in line said “nice,” like well-trained dogs.  Lin gave Pensey a thumbs up. By her reckoning, that was the largest margin of improvement in their cohort. Pensey rushed forward and embraced her, which was startling—and entirely unnecessary—but not unpleasant, at least as far as unwanted hugs went.

— Hace. Merday, Libra 7th, 2344 AA. 7:50 AM. Arroyo Athenaeum —

After a couple more rotations, Hace managed to shave his score down to one thirteen, which put him in third behind Lin and Cyphira’s best scores. Most others improved by similar margins, but Hace noticed some people regressed. Drav continued to hit the disc as hard as he possibly could, much to Miller’s annoyance and the cohort’s amusement.

The bell called for the end of class, and Hace noticed that Drav looked smug, but also vaguely wistful that nobody managed to compete, save Valmont, who did it unintentionally. He was a big guy, already six feet tall, with close cropped blonde hair and piercing blue eyes. Hace approached the hulking exchange student, hit him in the shoulder, and said:

“Watch this.” He turned to Miller, begging. “Will you measure one more for me?”

She gave him a long look and blinked.

“You’re gonna shoot it as hard as you possibly can, aren’t you?”

Hace gestured apologies and begged in alternation. Miller rolled her eyes and gestured for him to take his place at the firing line. Hace thanked her, turned to face the target, clenched and released his fists, then thrust both hands forward, unleashing as much urdic power as he could output. The same force he used to break his father’s head, and then some. He thought of Valmont’s advice, and did the opposite. Right before he released the spell, he choked his energy into a narrow funnel.

The plate shot from blue to bright red, to a dark crimson. Miller sighed and shook her head.

“One eighty-four. Now get to class.”

Drav looked at Hace in awe, and said:

“Tovarishch!”

— Alinore. 8:07 AM. Arroyo Athenaeum (Central Lecture Hall) —

After sorcery practice, the cohort lined up into one of the Athenaeum’s enormous lecture halls in the campus’ small humanities section. Most classes were smaller, subdividing the cohort by age, sex, or what not, but history was a core requirement. And I’ve been looking forward to it.

Lin saw her mentor, Master Lewin Carroll, waiting at the front of the room as people filed in. She gave him a small wave and he winked at her. She took a seat in the front row, and Pensey sat next to her like a duckling.

“Hello and welcome, young aspirants, to Magical History and Tradition. I am Master Lewin Carroll, and over the next two years, you will come to hate me as I drag you through the entire known record of human civilization, as informed by its turbulent relationship with magic. And I will not lie to you, dear students: it’s a subject that many people find dull, dry, and tedious.”

“Athenaeum decorum dictates I spend the first day reading the syllabus and introducing myself. But you are all perfectly capable of reading the handouts that Miss Cheng and Mister Gallardo have issued, if you so care to. If you don’t care, my narration will do precious little to pique your interest. I also have no desire to drone on about my credentials, because they are almost entirely irrelevant. We all know you are here because this is a required course and I am the only one teaching it. My condolences.”

There were a couple snickers and polite chuckles, but the lecture hall was otherwise silent. Lin giggled for her part, because she had spoken with Carroll several times by this point, and found him charming.

“The trouble with the Athenaeum’s early education is that it presents students with remarkably little choice in their curriculum. The idea is to build a common foundation of skills and knowledge that we can comfortably build on. But I believe we so-called ‘masters’ should do everything we can to make our wisdom feel relevant and pertinent.

“Therefore, I want to start by asking some questions. I will record your answers here,” he plucked a notebook off the lecture podium and held it up. “And attempt to tailor my lessons according to your interests. Regrettably, we don’t have enough time for everybody to speak their piece in class, so for homework, I want everybody to write a couple sentences responding to each of these questions. But if you answer me in-class, you will receive extra credit, and you can skip that question in your write-up. Sound good?”

The class murmured its assent, still tepid and skeptical toward this long-winded teacher.

“Excellent. To begin, I’d like to hear what you consider to be the most important things in history. It can be a moment in time, technological inventions, artistic movements, or specific individuals…. Anything that casts ripples throughout history. Who wants to start?”

There was the usual pause—a few seconds of consideration, followed by self-conscious doubt, and a general fear of going first. Lin was accustomed to being the first to speak up, but even she had to wrestle with the broadness of the question for a moment. It has to be people. The Arch Magi and Archons who—

“Ah. First challenger. What is your name?” Carroll asked.

Lin was surprised. She wasn’t used to being outpaced. She turned to see Matthews with his hand raised in the third row. When called, he stood from his seat.

“Hace Matthews, Master Carroll,” the boy said. 

“A pleasure, Mister Matthews. In your opinion, what are the most important things in history?”

“If I had to choose one… ‘category’ of things, I think it would be the Cataclysms.”

Lin smirked to herself. Such a boy answer. History’s biggest explosions. Still, she had to admit it wasn’t a bad choice, just somewhat obvious.

“Yes, they certainly feature prominently, don’t they? But why would you argue they are the most important?”

Matthews seemed slightly taken aback for a second but regained his footing quickly enough.

“I’m not sure where to start. I mean, each Amagium was formed in response to a Cataclysm. History itself essentially begins with Homer’s destruction of Athens, right? We know a little bit about life prior to the birth of the First Amagium… but most of it is speculative. And when Esmeryl Chaucer ended the crusades with the destruction of Jerusalem, it paved the way for her to found the Second Amagium. And the third Cataclysm ended The Great War and inspired the Third Amagium.”

“So, the Cataclysms are important because they gave rise to Amagiate governance, then?”

“I mean, the presence of an Amagium changes everything. Politics. Religion. Culture. But the Cataclysms also make large parts of the planet uninhabitable. And where history is concerned… they’re all sort of works in progress.”

What?

“Explain,” Carroll said, wearing a Cheshire smile.

“They’re mysteries. Well, the first two anyway. We understand how the Atom Splitter works. When it comes to Chaucer and Homer though… Their knowledge of artificing and the Resting Laws was way more primitive than ours. Yet the magic they used was even more destructive than what the Allies did to Hiroshima with the Atom Splitter. That’s what is important about them, in my opinion. They are black holes in what we think we know about the world.”

Carroll smiled broadly, folding his arms across his chest and leaning against the podium.

“Color me impressed, Mister Matthews. History is, at heart, a mystery. Most people think of it in terms of recordkeeping. Scorecards for games that have been played to completion. That’s why most people find it boring. But history is a perpetual work in progress, and our understanding of the past—or lack thereof—has a drastic impact on the present and future.”

Matthews beamed, bowed his head, and sat down. Lin shot her arm up before Carroll could say anything else. Carroll gave Lin an amused look and nodded at her.

“Miss Valmont. Have something to add?”

“Aren’t the people who caused the Cataclysms more important than the events themselves?”

“Are they?” Carroll asked, smiling, though he kept his wyrd and voice neutral.

“The Cataclysms didn’t happen in isolation. Homer and Chaucer not only caused those events, but steered the world in their wake. Chaucer also invented the licensure system, which would be my nomination for the single most important technological advancement in history. And if you want to talk about blind spots…Chaucer seemed to emerge from nowhere and bent Athur to her ear, either through sorcery, or seduction, or… God only knows what. Some accounts claim that she lived for three hundred years. Others claim that she never died. And we know even less about Homer.”

Carroll smiled approvingly and Pensey emanated congratulations, which made Lin feel self-conscious and proud all at once.

“A point well-made. Let’s have one more answer before moving on. Most important historical singularities. Go.”

A smattering of students raised their hands throughout the lecture hall, now that the ice had been broken. Even though Lin was frustrated Matthews beat her to the first punch, she was confident that her answer one-upped his. But now that the obvious answers were taken, she was curious to see what her cohort came up with.

“You, sir. In the back. What is your name?”

Lin turned to see a boy with a mass of unruly dark curls stand at the back row of the lecture hall.

“Azmuir Stillman, Master. And I think the single greatest force in history are commoners.”

“Intriguing, Mister Stillman. Care to explain?”

Stillman smirked and paused for a second before answering.

“Calamities. Famous figures. Important inventions. These things control the tides, so to speak. But everyday people, united behind common causes and principles? They are the ocean itself. The Enlightenment. The Industrial Revolution. The push for nationalism that led to the dissolution of the Second Amagium, and the Great War. Even the war itself. Commoners are always the ones who do the killing and the dying.”

“That’s a rather broad interpretation of singularities, but your point is well-taken. As Mister Matthews and Miss Valmont hinted, the real project of history is solving mysteries. What do you think our blind spot is in regards to collectives?”

Stillman smiled again, coy and smug.

“What did your family do two thousand years ago? Who were they? What did they stand for? We remember famous kings, priests, and amagia, but their subjects are reduced to anonymity. Collectives define the spirit of an era, but the people who comprise them are anonymous. We sum them up with convenient assumptions that suit the present.”

Carroll seemed pleased. He rubbed his chin and nodded. But Lin felt the answer was something of a cop out. A collective can be whatever you want it to be. Every era in history can be grouped into competing collectives.

“I can tell this cohort will make me run for my money. Alright. Onto the next question. This course is titled Magical History and Traditions. Why do you think we make that distinction? What does ‘tradition’ mean?”

There was a longer pause this time. Lin raised her hand again. Carroll made a great show of looking over the entire lecture hall before calling on her.

“Miss Valmont, once again.”

“Traditions are practices informed by history,” Lin said.

“And why do we bother to distinguish between the two?” Carroll asked, eyes twinkling.

Lin opened her mouth, but didn’t have a reply ready off the cuff. Shit. I forgot the first half of the question and I’ve got nothing. Heat crept into her cheeks. She gestured that she did not know, emanated an apology, and sat back down. She stole a glance at Pensey, who gave her an exaggerated shrug.

“Anyone else?” Carroll asked.

Dead silence. Carroll chuckled.

“I think you’re close, Miss Valmont. When we hear the word ‘tradition,’ most of us think of annual events. Christmas trees and jack-o’-lanterns. But those are concrete examples of an abstract concept. So, I would tweak your definition to be practices informed by the past. Traditions dictate the cadence and content of history. They determine what we keep and repeat, and what we discard and forget. The body of work we refer to as ‘history’ is the flesh that grows around the bones of tradition.”

Lin’s eyes lit up. I see. History is theory, and tradition is application. I had it backwards. Damn. She raised her hand again. Carroll laughed.

“I appreciate the enthusiasm Miss Valmont, but let’s give someone else a shot.”

Damn! Lin lowered her hand sheepishly. Answering too many questions wouldn’t hurt her reputation with teachers, but classmates were another story. And the “let’s hear from somebody else” line generally meant she had already crossed into teacher’s pet territory. It was bound to happen eventually.

“Third row. Next to Mister Matthews. Your name, sir?”

He was a Black boy. Skinny, with a slightly fey voice, but handsome.

“Glem Hughes, Master Carroll. I think what you’re saying is history is the product of tradition. So, this class is supposed to teach us both the content and practice of history.”

Carroll clapped his hands together and pointed at Hughes.

“Mister Hughes has the right of it. Bearing that in mind, I would like you all to answer this question by providing some examples of what tradition means to you. Push yourself to think past Easter Eggs and fireworks. The subtle things we do in our daily lives that shape our historical records. Now, onto the next question: In terms of today’s headlines, which events do you think we will register as historic?”

Lin lowered her head to her notebook, uninterested. This was an easy question. A way to make timid students feel included. And their answers were reasonable, but predictable. The advent of the Arcanet. The Taliban’s coordinated attacks on the Erician nations two years prior and the “War on Terror” that followed in its wake. The Rwandan genocide.

Meanwhile, Lin jotted down some bullet points and key phrases. Her initial notes were always quick and dirty, but she made a point of re-writing them in a format that was easy to reference and review later. Lin had an exceptional memory, but most of it came from the mental conditioning exercises her father had taught her in preparation for contract magic.

“My last question is the most important. And I want to hear from people who haven’t spoken up yet. What parts of history interest you? What do you want me, as a teacher, to focus on in my lesson plans?”

Another easy question. Lin leaned back in her seat, nakedly judging the other members of her cohort based on their answers. Generally speaking, she found more specific requests to have more merit. Kock said the Gygax Revolution, which was respectable. The most impressive request came from Sokolov, of all people, who asked about the Second Amagium’s spread into China and global domination. Cruz proposed ‘literature,’ which seemed almost completely irrelevant and unfocussed, opening the door for other stupidly broad nominations.  Lin forgot who said “military history,” because she was busy rolling her eyes. Why yes! I like fighting very much! Not enough to have an informed interest in any specific period of fighting, mind you; as long as there are explosions and swords and death, I’m good! Fucking idiot.

Then Pensey put her arm up, and Lin watched with interest. Carroll called her.

“My name is Pensey Hayes, and… Um, I’d like to learn more about historical romance,” she said.

What? Lin stared at her like she was mad. Carroll seemed perplexed and asked:

“Do you mean the romantic movement in art?”

Pensey flushed.

“No. Well, yes, that too, but I meant… more generally. Courtship, I suppose.”

Lin cringed on her friend’s behalf. Really, Pensey? Others were amused. Snickers and giggles swept through the auditorium like a blaze. Carroll held up a hand for silence, then gestured for Pensey to continue. She looked like she wanted to die, but kept talking:

“History books only ever mention marriage as an extension of politics. You talked about how little we know about the daily lives of common people,” she said, turning to Stillman, and then back to Carroll. “And for most people, I think love is a very powerful motivator. But it’s dismissed as frivolous. And… well. That seems like an oversight.”

Carroll smiled and nodded, but before he could reply, somebody sang the titular lyric from “Some Day My Prince Will Come,” in an earsplitting falsetto. Lin turned just in time to see that it was Matthews. The entire lecture hall lost it. Almost everybody laughed. Pensey glowed red and immediately sat back down, shoulders hunched and head bowed. Lin’s brow knit with anger and she emanated murder at Matthews until he made eye contact with her. He smirked and shrugged. Lin turned around in disgust and then looked at Pensey. She seemed like she was on the verge of tears, a panic attack, or some mix of the two.

Yeah, it sounded dumb to me too when I first heard it. But you’re right. Love is important. And textbooks do dismiss it. Lin clenched her left fist and put her right hand on Pensey’s shoulder.

“Ignore them,” she said tersely.

“Jokes aside,” Carroll said with a warning tone to his emanations. “I think you make an astute point, Miss Hayes. Most of us do what we do for love, and that is often lost on scholars. I must confess, I’m not terribly well-versed in traditions of courtship myself, but I will do my best.”

Pensey raised her head long enough to smile at Master Carroll before dropping her gaze back to her feet. The sight of her squeezed Lin’s heart.

You are too pure-hearted for your own good, and that draws bastards like flies to shit. But from this moment on? You are under my protection. And I will flay these fools alive before I let them break you.

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